Brian Kingston: An Unstoppable Force
By Priyangwada Perera Ceylon Today Features
Brian Kingston has changed the history of the Ceylon School for the Deaf and Blind, Ratmalana. Brian has scored As for all nine subjects he took but it is no miracle. Every ‘A’ pass Brian scored should be engraved in gold, for the effort, sheer grit and hard work that made it possible.
Every ‘A’ should also have a flower called Priya – the name of his mother –blooming underneath. There was no way Priya Bastian could send Brian to school, in his earlier years, where ordinary children go. Priya only managed to put Brian to Nursery at the age of six.
They were living in Mattakkuliya and Priya was determined to admit her son to the Blind School. But before that, she worked hard on her own to prepare her second child for what lay ahead. “By the time Brian was seven years, he had been in Grade 1 for three months. I met the Principal and requested him to check my son’s ability and promote him to the correct class. So, being in Grade 1, Brian did the exams that qualified him to enter Grade 3. He aced it.
Brian passed the exams. But since he was just seven years old, he was promoted to Grade 2,” Priya recalled with much satisfaction. The next hurdle was the Grade 5 Scholarship Exam. He was learning in Sinhala but being Tamil, Brian wanted to do the exam in Tamil medium.
Within one year, he learnt Tamil in braille on his own. He scored 155 and it remains an unbeaten record for the highest Scholarship Examination Mark scored at the Blind School. There is a specific machine which he uses in writing. It takes more time to do it, especially during the Grade 5 scholarship. Brian’s mother Priya got him the assistance of teacher Biso from the Blind Council to learn Braille.
It was Priya who sat with Brian and learnt Braille first and went on to teach and help Brian. It was no easy feat to go to the Ratmalana Blind School, every single day from Mattakkuliya, where they lived. Priya’s mother was their strength at home. For all these years, Priya would start her tailoring and sewing business around 6 in the evening and go on until midnight. “We need money. We have to find the transport fare. I have to buy at least a packet of milk for Brian. So, this is how I earned it.
I woke up daily at 2.30 a.m. and woke Brian at 3.00 a.m. We have to catch the bus at 4.30 a.m. to get to Ratmalana. Later my mother would send off my older son to school. Brian never had time to study in the morning because we set off early.” But that became a little different as the Ordinary Level exam got closer.
Priya rented a small house from Ratmalana and stayed with Brian. While her older son and mother stayed in Mattakkuliya. Brian attended a private tuition class for Science, in the last few months because online learning was becoming extremely challenging for Brian. “That class, of course, was for ordinary students.
But I listened to the lesson being explained. We also got questions, that helped me a lot. I would record the lesson and listen to it at home.” At G.C.E. O/L even the visually challenged students get the same Science paper as other students. Imagine yourself as being blind and having to learn geometry, graphs and such things, they are a real challenge when it comes to a visually challenged student.
“I need to thank my family for helping me grow up like an ordinary child. I want to thank everyone who included me in their games, from cricket to Omi. My uncle taught me Maths. Sharmila akka helped me with English and Maths while Oshani akka helped me with Science and Agriculture. I was helped by many people,” a very grateful Brian recalled.
Brian’s support system has been a solid and powerful one. His teachers of Science and Maths, Chathuri and Renu spent extra time on him to help him understand the questions with graphs and diagrams. His History teacher, Monic and his teacher of Sinhala Language and Literature, Dhammika were both blind but opened Brian’s eyes. His optional subjects were Agriculture, Civics and Eastern Music.
Would you believe if I said that Brian is also a sports star? Brian learnt to run with the help of his older brother Ramston and the encouraging words of his mother who stood on the side-lines as he covered long distances on safe grounds. She also always ensured that Brian was included in various activities that his cousins would engage in. “My mother firmly believed in my abilities and held my hand and ran with me, I picked up confidence. That is how I became the Senior School Overall Champion in sports in 2019. I also became the All Island Champion in Shot Put in 2020,” said Brian.
Brian’s achievements are enormous. However, he knows that he cannot opt for Science or Maths for Advanced Level. Instead, he hopes to choose Economics, Logic and European History. For that, he has to move to a normal school for his Advanced Levels. He is determined that he can record the lessons, listen to them at home and prepare.
“Believe in our abilities. You do not have to look at us as if it is magic even when we do something small. My mother’s faith and strength made me realise that being visually impaired is only a small weakness. There might be blind people begging on the roads. But we are not beggars.
Help those who travel alone, stop them a bus, tell the way, help them to cross roads,” an extremely smart and strong Brian opined. His mother never considered him an embarrassment. Brian was always taken out, be it for social gatherings, weddings or Christmas shopping. Priya wanted her child to feel and sense the world.
“I knew my mother has immense faith in me. I knew she was proud of me and was not ashamed of me. That gave me the message that if she is proud of me, I need to be proud of myself and show the world that I am no different,” Brian said. He also added that it is best to be sensitive to someone like him. “We do not want sympathy.
Just accept us for who we are. Assist us if we are struggling. I have heard people pitying me. Long ago, I was heartbroken at a shop when someone came and put some money in my hand. We are not beggars. Maybe you mean well, but in such a case, the best is to ask us whether we need help and how they can help.” Both Priya and Brian spoke gratefully of all the teachers, family and friends. His brother Ramston, Sharmila and Oshani, Hariharan are his biggest motivators.
They are thankful to the Blind Council who sponsored him and helped him with equipment and also the Sri Lanka Council of Visually Handicapped Graduates who have made thousands of textbooks and novels in the form of audiobooks. Brian is an example of ‘ordinary people doing extraordinary things’. We wish him all the very best for his future endeavours. (Pix by Kelum Chamara)